You flip off the light switch, and the living room darkens. Outside, the sky is inky and the stars look like holes punched in canvas. The street is quiet, as it has been for weeks. No one in the house stirs. It is one a.m., and you should be sleeping.
Every night these days, the same.
You watch just one more episode of Third Rock from the Sun, so that you can laugh. You sit at the jigsaw puzzle and fit in one last piece. A few dishes in the sink need to be loaded. The dog wants to go out, and the cat mews beside a dish that is dangerously low on kibbles.
In the other room, your husband snorts lightly in his sleep and turns over. He is sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor of your daughter’s room. Chemotherapy scares you. It’s mostly the side effects you worry over, and you can’t let her sleep alone in her room. What if you slept through something catastrophic? So, every night, your husband lies down on a twin mattress, pulls a Frozen 2 blanket over his shoulders, and settles in. Usually around 2am, your daughter creeps from her bed into his, and you swear, he enjoys it.
Finally, you have accomplished all of the minor tasks, and there is nothing left but to attempt sleep.
Your room is dark and quiet. The white noise machine whirrs. Through your open window, you can hear spring peepers calling. The soft white comforter and gray sheets are in disarray, and your one year old sleeps in the center of the bed. You settle beside her and study her face, the round cheeks, rosy lips, and the black lashes against the alabaster cheek. She breathes lightly and easily, one hand curled into a fist against her cheek.
You stroke her blonde curls lightly, careful not to disturb her. She chuffs slightly and rolls onto her back.
As you lie beside her, you hope that sleep will come before tears. There’s nothing wrong with crying, but sometimes, you’re afraid that if you start, you’ll never stop. You close your eyes.
The pictures come then, playing like a movie on the dark of your eyelids. Face masks. Gloves. Fear. The groceries that were left on your porch hours ago, and you’re afraid to touch. You try to remember the last time you saw your mom, your nephew, your friends. When was the last grocery store trip where you waltzed in and then out again, with no understanding of the basic freedom of movement?
Your chest starts to feel tight, and taking a deep breath requires effort. It’s like something is sitting there.
Sometimes, early early into the morning hours, when you can’t sleep because the toddler is kicking you or because you’ve gotten up to check on your cancer-stricken daughter for the third time, you wonder if you’re actually in hell. You don’t believe in hell, any more than you believe in the Tooth Fairy, but every now and then, it seems as if maybe you are there— consigned by a hateful God. In this hell, each of your children will be stripped from you, one by one, leaving you to wander the earth forever mourning.
Sleep doesn’t come, and so you reach for your digital lifeline and pull up the COVID map on Bing. The world looks like it has chickenpox. You scroll to the United States and check the numbers. Then you check CNN, MSNBC, and lastly, the local news. You cruise Facebook and Insta.
Slowly, your eyes become heavy and the words before you swim. You put your phone into do not disturb, convinced that now, you will sleep. But when you close your eyes, the thought floats by, “if I go to sleep, then I have to wake up tomorrow and do this all over again.”